Submission from the Science and Technology
Facilities Council (STFC)
The UK's science and engineering
base is one of its strongest assets for innovation and future
economic growth. The Government's ten-year investment
framework from 2004-2014 supports UK science and innovation.
A Large Facilities Capital Fund provides capital funding for the
construction of large research facilities. Developing,
building and operating large national and international research
facilities for the UK requires a long-term outlook. Such facilities
have lifetimes measured in decades and require skilled teams of
scientists, engineers and technicians to design, build, operate
and exploit them.
Short-term funding variations through
the Spending Review cycle can potentially damage the ability of
STFC to effectively operate key scientific infrastructures. This
in turn can weaken the return on these investments and adversely
affect the confidence of the UK's international partners in collaborative
STFC recommends the consideration
of policy models for through-life resourcing of large research
facilities over the long term to ensure that best use is made
of the capital investment and to ensure the maximum scientific,
social and economic returns for the UK.
1. This submission to the IUSS enquiry "Putting
Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy"
provides information to the Committee related to the unique research
portfolio of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
2. This submission is complementary to that submitted
by RCUK on behalf of all research councils and which the STFC
3. Within the research council family, the
role of the STFC is to lead on the provision of large-scale research
facilities. STFC facilities cover the full research base, from
physical and biological science, to archaeology and fine arts.
STFC facilities are used by researchers supported by all the research
councils, for topics as diverse as probing sub-atomic world of
particle physics, developing new medicines, designing new materials,
and exploring the vastness of space and the Universe. STFC facilities
also support broader constituencies, including industry directly,
as well as scientific researchers from around the world.
4. As a result of sustained public investment
over a number of years researchers in the UK now have access to
some of the world's best scientific research facilities. Examples
i. The Diamond Light Source, the largest ever
single investment in scientific infrastructure on UK soil.
ii. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN,
the most powerful particle collider in the world built with substantial
contributions from the UK
iii. A second target station at the ISIS neutron
source, opening to researchers in 2009, which will provide a substantial
enhancement, optimised for soft matter, to an already world-leading
iv. World-leading laser facilities, in particular
at the Central Laser Facility based at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
v. Cutting-edge space research funded through
the European Space Agency, international bi-lateral agreements
and collaborations with national space agencies, including NASA
vi. The world's best ground-based telescopes,
for example the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile.
5. STFC has been designed to take full advantage
of the synergies between and long term nature of these investments,
integrating grant-funded HEI based studies with large scale international
programmes and facilities. As stated by the Minister at its formation,
"The aim of the new council will be to create a more integrated
approach to large scientific research facilities, including in
international negotiations for long-term projects involving several
countries acting together; to obtain more value from the knowledge
and technologies developed as a result of the new council's programmes;
and to deliver both those goals using the two science and innovation
campuses at Harwell and Daresbury as identifiable knowledge transfer
centres that host UK-based large-scale international facilities."
6. One demonstrable positive benefit of
the creation of STFC has been the increased influence of the UK
in international and European scientific planning forums, such
as the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
7. The UK's science and engineering base
is one of its strongest assets for innovation and future economic
growth. Alongside the 2004 Spending Review, the Chancellor
of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced a ten-year investment
framework for UK science and innovation. The long-term strategy
for supporting UK science saw the Government give its commitment
to make the UK one of the most competitive locations in the world
for science, research and development and innovation, and foster
a climate in which talented individuals and enterprising companies
8. Providing cutting-edge facilities for the
UK research base is an essential part of a long term strategy
to retain and grow the UK's competitiveness in the global economy.
In harsh economic times, the "business case" for investing
in science and the wider research base is even more compelling.
Continuing to invest in the research base, and even increasing
investment, is vitally important. Only in this way can we position
the nation to take full advantage of an economic recovery.
9. Many of our national and international
facilities, like Diamond, ISIS and the LHC at CERN, have a lifetime
measured in decades. Planning for Diamond, for example, began
more than a decade ago, and its construction was agreed on the
understanding it will have at least 28 years of operation.
10. Large research facilities require skilled
scientists, engineers and technicians to operate and exploit them.
Again, this is a long-term requirement and needs long-term commitment.
It takes 13 years of formal education to produce a secondary
school student capable of even undertaking an undergraduate science
degree, before further years of effort to achieve post-graduate
11. A unique aspect of large research facilities
is their long-term nature and their development as a part of international
collaborative programmes. They take many years to plan, develop
and complete in part because they involve complex construction
phases, but also because they require ongoing problem resolution
throughout the delivery. Many are in effect, their own prototypes,
for example, the Large Hadron Collider.
12. Research teams and capabilities often
take many years to establish, so any sudden change of direction
in terms of funding support can be both frustrating and damaging
to UK science and its international reputation. With this in mind
it is essential that Government policy regarding funding for scientific
facilities should be phased over a time period consistent with
the typical duration of projects and the lifetime of the infrastructure.
We note that this need for a long-term perspective on funding
was highlighted in the recent RCUK Review of UK Physics led by
Professor Bill Wakeham.
13. Taking this long term view for research
requires courage, particularly in difficult financial times, but
it is essential if the UK is to maintain and improve its position
as a competitive knowledge- and skills-based economy.
14. The lead time in developing, building
and operating large facilities is long, typically not less than
10 years to develop and build, with operational lifetimes
of 30-40 years. STFC facility operations must be addressed
from a long-term strategic viewpoint and sustained investment
in their continued operation is needed for them to deliver their
full potential over their projected lifetimes.
15. 80% of the STFC's budget is devoted to facility
operations and development: international subscriptions account
for half of this commitment and national facility operations and
development programmes account for the other half. For particle
physics and astronomy alone STFC spent £154.42 million
in 2006-07 on international subscriptions.
16. By their nature, these annual spending
commitments are long term and there is little practical flexibility
in the short-term. Relatively small reductions in facility spending
allocations in the short term tend to have a disproportionate
impact on the scientific and ecomomic return on total investment.
This is because a large percentage (typically 85%) of the cost
of operating a facility is the fixed cost of ownership (staff
costs and maintenance in a safe and operational state). The only
costs that can effectively be reduced in the short term are the
marginal costs related to the number of operating days, resulting
in a disproportionately large reduction in the throughput of experiments.
17. Decisions to close facilities or withdraw
from international agreements have significant consequences (eg
political, reputational, skills availability) beyond the immediate
area of science. There are long lead times in changing the status
of, often international, agreements, or withdrawing from or closing
facilities. Such decisions require close involvement of the Government
of the day. Short-term funding variations, on the Spending Review
cycle, can potentially damage STFC's ability to support key scientific
infrastructure. Furthermore it can create uncertainty with international
partners and potentially weakens the UK's position as a potential
driver for new international facilities and programmes, including
inward investment into the UK.
18. Because of the nature of its business,
STFC has developed, and continues to refine, long-term strategies
across the whole of its programme; each tailored to ensure that
the UK is in a strong position to influence the international
debate and maximise returns for the UK.
19. The STFC maintains a rolling 10-year
plan which sets out financial requirements to deliver approved
programmes, and financial projections for future planned programmes.
As part of the process of developing this plan, a critical analysis
has been carried out on cost drivers for the programme, to ensure
that the financial projections are realistic. The 10-year planning
process enables STFC to:
i. capture and assess the resource implications
of the future plans of each element of our programme, for both
operations and development activity;
ii. continuously track changes to plans and their
status as they move through our approval and post-approval monitoring
iii. identify the expected lifetimes of projects
and programmes and identify when programmes will "sunset",
thereby allowing investment in new programmes;
iv. provide a reliable basis for making future
investment decisions against the current and projected financial
A "Large Facilities Operational Fund"?
20. In recent years there has been significant
new investment in the science base supported by the STFC, for
example Diamond, ISIS Second Target Station, ESO, LHC, Aurora.
Within the period covered by CSR07 and the next two spending
reviews many of these will mature to the point where they could
start to deliver optimum return on that investment. Operational
funding must be commensurate to the capital investment for the
UK to see the appropriate return on the investments.
21. The UK takes a strategic view as to the best
way to maintain access for researchers to large facilities and
to manage the investment of public funds. The Research Councils
publish a Large Facilities Roadmap to guide investment. The first
version of the Large Facilities Roadmap was published in June
2001 and then updated in 2005 and 2008.
22. The Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF,
administered by DIUS and typically £100 million per
annum) was established to support Research Council investments
in large research facilities with capital funding that could not
be sensibly accommodated from within Research Council budgets
or within spending review cycles. It concentrates on those facilities
identified by the Research Councils as being of the highest strategic
importance and which require significant investment for the Council
23. The LFCF provides a funding contribution
to the capital costs of the construction of new facilities either
nationally or internationally, or the expansion or enhancement
of existing facilities. Examples of current projects at STFC supported
through this route include Phase 2 and Phase 3 instruments
at the ISIS Second Target Station and Phase 2 and Phase 3 instruments
at Diamond Light Source.
24. Other funding is available in the UK
for large facilities and infrastructure from Government Departments,
Regional Development Agencies, Devolved Administrations, charities,
the private sector, the European Commission, and other international
bodies. Examples here include the 14% stake in Diamond Light Source
Ltd by the Wellcome Trust, and the development of infrastructure
for new businesses at the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus
by the North West Development Agency.
25. Our programme also contains modest provision
for a number of new, high priority investment programmes to maintain
the UK's lead in areas where it is already world leading; existing
examples are HiPER, New Light Source, XFEL, ELT, SKA, and in the
near future a Next Generation Neutron Source.
26. In addition to providing large national
facilities, the UK's international subscriptions are undertaken
by STFC on behalf of the nation. As well as providing access to
world-leading facilities essential for the UK's scientific competitiveness,
and in doing so representing important assets that need to be
handled as a UK-wide resource and not as STFC programmes, they
also underpin the UK's reputation as a credible scientific partner
and open up avenues for working across national boundaries that
are increasingly important.
27. Whilst the STFC's programme takes account
of the timely phasing out of and withdrawal from certain programmes,
the UK's ambitions are increasing as science and technology research
becomes ever more central to economic competiveness. Furthermore
the newer generation facilities are significantly more capable,
and therefore more expensive to develop, build and operate than
their predecessors. This is matched by a commensurate increase
in scientific and economic impact.
28. STFC carries significant obligations
for the careful management of these national interests. However,
international subscriptions are affected by inflation, fluctuations
in currency exchange rates and national GDP levels. These are
beyond STFC's control and limit flexibility in financial planning
with potentially serious impact to our domestic research programme.
29. The existence of an earmarked funding
line for major science facilities (the "Large Facilities
Capital Fund", LFCF) has provided a very successful mechanism
for appropriately controlled and prioritised investments.
30. STFC proposes that it may be beneficial
for Government policy to consider adopting a through-life resourcing
mechanism, or a "Large Facilities Operating Fund",
to match the LFCF facility, whereby the key strategic elements
of the scientific research and broader exploitation of large facilities
are assessed and funded via long-term plans.
31. Excellent science can only be delivered
when working with, and benchmarked against, the best scientists
in the world. In many circumstances, the UK's interests will be
best served by participating in a facility overseas, for example,
through international subscriptions or bilateral/multilateral
arrangements with other countries to build facilities either abroad
or in the UK. In this context, the UK needs to take a view on
when and how to participate in major new international facilities,
considering the potential for the UK to provide global direction
and to disseminate UK excellence, attract the best researchers
in to the country, as well as enhancing the international collaborative
activities of UK researchers.
32. The road map approach to large infrastructure
planning pioneered by the United Kingdom has been widely commended
and adopted by others. Provision of research facilities can be
undertaken in three main ways:
i. As a national UK facility;
ii. Jointly with European partners, either in
the UK or elsewhere;
iii. Jointly with other global partners (such
as the United States), either in the UK or elsewhere.
33. The European Strategy Forum on Research
Infrastructures (ESFRI) has played a major role in developing
a roadmap of research facilities of interest to European states.
Set up in 2002, ESFRI is a group of senior science administrators
from across Europe who advise national governments and the European
Commission on infrastructure needs.
34. ESFRI released its first roadmap in
2006. On 9 December 2008, ESFRI released an updated roadmap
of 44 projects. The construction cost for all 44 projects
over the next 12 years would be about 18 billion.
The EU's Seventh Framework research programme allocates just 1.7 billion
to such costs.
35. A substantial fraction of the ESFRI
Roadmap facilities are of interest to UK researchers and therefore
appear in the RCUK Large Facilities Roadmap, either as potential
future facilities that might be constructed in the UK with international
collaboration, or as overseas facilities to which access for UK
researchers is desirable.
36. Despite the ESFRI roadmap, current arrangements
concentrate attention on availability of capital funding to build
facilities, but again there are significant weaknesses in assessing
their ongoing costs, and the impact (normally in future spending
review periods) of meeting those costs on the balance of research
council funded activities. At prioritisation, estimates of costs
and assessments of benefits are preliminary, yet priorities are
not reviewed if costs or benefits are significantly revised as
business cases are prepared.
A WAY FORWARD
37. By exploring different funding structures
STFC could be provided with enhanced flexibility to extract the
maximum benefit for the UK from its research programmes to drive
forward UK priorities and to leverage external funding.
38. One possibility would be to provide guaranteed
baseline funding for effective exploitation and operation of central
facilities allocated alongside capital funding. This will allow
a clearer case to be made of the requirement for, and impact of,
large scale infrastructure investments. Similarly, early-stage
R&D to enable new facilities and national science/technology
programmes must be integrated into this approach. Such long term
forward-looking planning will ensure best use is made of the capital
39. A similar long-term approach should
be adopted for technology and science programmes that underpin
strategic developments (for example in materials, space and particle
physics), and for the exploitation of international subscriptions.
Solutions can lie within the research councils, in the HEIs, and/or
in specialist entities such as the Cockcroft Institute for Accelerator
Science. Of course, for both the programmes and facilities this
long-term perspective needs to be fully coordinated and balanced
with a substantive ongoing ability to explore innovative new ideas
via responsive-mode funding from STFC and other funding agencies.
40. STFC would welcome the consideration
of a revised policy model for through-life resourcing of large
research facilities and commitments in which funding arrangements
match the long-term strategic nature of our programmes.
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